'Mental strength' key for Gunners in hectic month
Arsenal begin their hectic decisive February tonight with a home match against Southampton, desperate to avoid a repeat of their worst result of the season.
On St Stephen's Day, five days after beating Manchester City, Arsène Wenger's side went to Southampton, who were in poor form, having lost five of their previous six games. Southampton won 4-0.
Wenger's side shook that setback off and are still very much in the title race, just three points behind leaders Leicester.
They are competing on three fronts and while the focus at this time of year is injuries and fitness, Wenger spoke about something else yesterday: mental energy.
That is what Wenger is trying to conserve now; that is why he rested players against Burnley in the FA Cup last Saturday, and that is how he explained their festive Hampshire collapse.
"I felt on the day we did not have the mental energy," Wenger reflected yesterday. "We put a lot in. It was a little bit Christmas, it was a little bit the fact that after (beating) City we felt that we had done it.
"We got caught by a team that was full of desire. We were beaten physically. I felt on the day we did not have the resources."
While physical fitness can be maintained by playing matches, Wenger's decision to rest Mesut Özil,Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey for the match against Burnley owed more to maintaining that mental freshness as Arsenal head into another crucial week.
After playing Southampton tonight, they travel to Bournemouth on Sunday before hosting title rivals Leicester City on Valentines Day.
"Sometimes it is important to give a breather, just to recharge, more mentally than physically," Wenger explained.
"If you play game after game sometimes you are just not fresh enough mentally. Physically you can cope with it."
That is what Arsenal need to do if they are to keep competing in the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup. Previous Arsenal sides, such as in 2010-11, have buckled under their workload in the spring.
Wenger is confident that this side is more resilient, though, given how they have dealt with setbacks such as the Southampton defeat.
"I think the team has a good mentality, a good level of humility, and a good togetherness," Wenger explained. Humility means that you question your performance every time, that you are ready to put a shift in. This team relies a lot on workrate."
With players returning from injury Wenger now has more options, especially given the fact that Francis Coquelin and Alexis Sanchez returned to the starting XI on Saturday after months out with knee and hamstring injuries respectively.
Wenger will not be able to call on Tomas Rosicky again soon, and sounded pessimistic about the Czech midfielder's future at Arsenal. Rosicky sustained a thigh injury during his brief substitute appearance in last Saturday's game, his first appearance this season, an injury which was still being assessed last night.
Wenger has always admired Rosicky but he did not sound positive yesterday about the Czech's chances of representing Arsenal again given that he is 35 years old and out of contract at the end of this season.
"Nobody understands (how it happened)," Wenger said. "I told him straight away after half-time to warm-up.
"I observed him and he's very conscientious. Tomas did sprint and sprint and sprint. He comes on, after three minutes he got the injury.
"I looked at him and thought 'Tomas you do not run properly' because he didn't lift his legs and he lost some balls. He told me after the game that he did it straight away, then I understood why that happened to him. He is devastated."
Independent News Service